Tag Archives: gardening

time to garden


I’m better at growing cats than veggies

I feel the vibrations in the air, the low hum: spring is here.

(no, really, it is- this is the Southern Arizona desert, after all)

I’ve got these bright, happy looking flowers planted in colorful pots beside the driveway, but it’s not enough. I want to plunge my hands into the dirt. I want to cut away the dead and coax forth the new. I want to smell and dig and brush my hair out of my eyes and squint and frown and sigh with pleasure at the return of the perennials. I want to water. And water. And water.

I want a real garden.

I’ve always lacked the discipline to be a true gardener, especially in a challenging desert environment, although I could pretend like I was one when my ex was around; he would breathe on scorched earth and an Eden would miraculously burst forth at his feet. I’m lazy and my material abilities are often not enough to realize or sustain all that I get interested in, so a lot of efforts to garden through the years have never really come to fruition. But I’ve always had this passion for living things, for life. I love to surround myself with growing things. And  I want my daughter to share in it, to relish the simple joy of watching a seedling sprout overnight, of savoring summer’s first tomato.

In recent years I was too much the gypsy for a proper garden to make sense; low-demand plants on the back patio of a rental had to suffice. Now that I have a house and I’m there pretty much all the time, it doesn’t feel like mine without abundant planters, without garden beds in tidy rows, full of new green tendrils popping through the soil, seeking the sun and air.

As things stand now, the back yard looks more like Syria than Better Homes and Gardens. There is much work to do, but it is time.

Tucson in November

November in the desert is a study of opposites.  The skies have gone quiet, awaiting the arrival of winter migrants. The sun still shines warmly yet the wind blows cold, laced with the sweet smell of decay.  Night come early and lingers well into the next day, and even though I am a morning person, I find myself slumbering longer and longer under heavy blankets.

The chickens are up with the sun when she shows her face, and demanding squawks eventually pull me out of bed and into the garden. The cold is quickly dissipating under the sun’s loving stare; even though I can see my breath in puffs, my rumpled hair is warmed by sunshine as I feed the birds and release them from the coop into the yard.The air is perfumed with the aroma of the growing and the dying.   I appraise the winter lettuce,whose green fingers tentatively reach upwards from the deep black earth.  The fig and peach trees shed their leaves like a papery dress, yet the carrots extend tender young greens upward and wave a feathery “hi!”

Even in Tucson, winter gardens can be a bit of a gamble.  With hardly a warning the long night could decide to push the temperature below freezing and irreparably damage the brave young plants that dare to grow in the coldest, darkest months.  The eggplant has already taken a hit, and its only mid-November.  But we are fearless beings, the veggies and I, and seek the light wherever we can find it.

The warm sun, the cool breeze, the sweetness of the earth, the cackle of the chickens are intoxicating, but the afternoon pulls me indoors.  Today has seen temperatures well into the 70’s, but deeper instincts of the dying light and coming cold cause me to seek shelter.  Home yields its own delights; before long the kitchen smells a curious combination of burned sage, the yogi tea bubbling on the stove, the yeasty sweetness of bread in the oven.

It is fall.  We grow upward, we turn inward  We shiver through the night and bask in yellow sunshine during the day.

Our Fall Garden, 2011

May you find your own sweet balance between the light and the dark.

the magical compost pile


two of our compost piles, hard at work.

The most magical place in our home is the compost pile. With open arms, it takes the dead, the rotten, the leftovers.  Add in sun and water and the hard work of slithery creatures and dutiful microbes, the compost is transformed into rich, black dirt.  It feeds our plants and flowers.  The micronutrients are reborn into something beautiful and often delicious.

I can see why people several hundred years ago thought life was formed from invisible particles that float in the air.  It seems as if God breathes onto our muck and turns it into something of inherent good.Things transform quickly. One day an apple core, the next day something new.  The building up from the breaking down, it seems divine.  But its just life, the everyday miracle of existence here on earth.

I wouldn’t say that God is decomposing the waste products from my thorough cleanout of the chicken coop this weekend, but this humble pile has taught me a spiritual lesson or two.

I will let the losses in my life transform me.  I will become stronger and healthier as I absorb the good from all whom I have left me, and all I have left behind.  That which I have lost is still with me, in the same way that the molecules in the flowers my mom sent me for my birthday last year will be reborn into this winter’s lettuce crop.

I want my mother back.  I want to sit next to her, drink coffee and feel her hand in mine.  But that is not possible. I have choices, though.  I can cultivate the gaping holes in my heart so something new can flourish.  I can grow.


Everywhere, there are butterflies.

They fly around my head while I walk to my front door.  Their larvae cling to my tee shirt while I water tomatoes.

These are creatures of transformation. Purportedly, they are the only living being that completely change their DNA during a lifetime. 

I think about my mother’s transformation on a daily basis, but maybe these little insects are hinting at my own process. Afterall, I want to be different.  My sunny exterior doesn’t always show the extent in which I am fearful and negative. Whether its the Irish DNA or scars from prior trauma, I spend a disporportionate time planning for and expecting the worst.  Mom and I might have some of the same genes, but in this regard we are very different animals.

I want to peel away the darkness and step into a new being.  One that is lighter, less worried about tomorrow but one that soaks in the joys of today.

in the garden



this morning’s harvest


I always suspected that I’d like to garden.  There was a point in college where I filled every nook I could find with houseplants, and my mom complained that my room was starting to smell like a cow barn. But other than a few potted tomatoes and hot peppers, I never took up serious vegetable gardening until this year.  Supported by Jack’s penchant for hard labor, we built a tremendous garden, which has been very successful considering our lack of experience.   Even the “failures,” such as our winter peas, teach us something, and I appreciate them. 

What has surprised me the most is the pure  joy I feel when sharing our harvest. I’m almost always ready to eat, but even more than even more than chowing down on the bounty myself,  I love sending friends from our home with arms full of delicious veggies, fresh eggs, pungent garlic.  I’m currently at the Phoenix airport, waiting for the plane that will take me to Houston, and I have eggs, squash and tomatoes tucked safely away in my carry-on. Luckily TSA hasn’t identified garden produce as a security threat, as I’m eager to share the fruits of our harvest with my family. 

Its about more than good food, although I’m not afraid to say it: our veggies and eggs are de-lish! There is a simple beauty in every tomato, a sublime wonder in the crookneck squash.  Our garden is something that we worked hard for, watering in the heat day after day, cleaning the chicken coop, digging and mulching and weeding.  But despite the labors, every time I pluck a zucchini or gather an egg from the nest box, it feels like a gift, a small miracle. Our food speaks to me on a deep level, and its no surprise: our garden is sustainable nutrition, aesthetic perfection, spiritual wonderment, community connection. And its an archetypal experience too, coaxing life out of the ground as humans have done for thousands of years.  It is the past, the now, and the future. It is a simple, humble thing, but I believe having a garden has been the most important recent development in my life. 

So, inspire me with your stories of gardening. I’d love to hear about them.